We have Roald Dahl’s excellent 1964 book Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, a brilliantly imaginative 1971 big screen adaptation starring Gene Wilder, the darker outing starring Johnny Depp in 2005, and the 2013 stage musical which is currently running in the Bord Gais Theatre. It is safe to say that fans cannot get enough of Willy Wonka’s wacky world.
Now, the team behind the gorgeous Paddington films brings us to the story’s next phase. Wonka is a prequel that introduces us to a young Willy Wonka. He has big dreams and, as the song says, a lot of imagination, but dreams don’t come easy, as he learns in this all-singing, all-dancing film. We tuned into the global press conference to find out more.
The film’s director says that as this is part of Roald Dahl’s world, things get bumpy for young Wonka.
“Willy is a great optimist. The film is set 25 years before the events of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. He’s a young man taking his first steps into the world, and he hopes for great things, but because this is Roald Dahl’s universe movie, the world is not as warm or welcoming as he might hope. Willy Wonka won’t take no for an answer and sets out to change things.”
Timothée Chalamet plays young Wonka and says that it did not take much persuading to join the cast.
“I was enamoured by Paul’s work on the Paddington films. I was daunted by the idea of playing Willy Wonka because of the love for the character, but within five pages of reading the script, I saw how clever Paul’s take was on the story of how Willy became the Willy Wonka we knew.”
The film has more than one baddie out to hamper Wonka’s plans to open a sweet shop. The most devilish is Mrs Scrubbit, a cold-hearted woman who traps Willy in her rundown guesthouse and forces him to work for her. Olivia Colman, who plays Mrs Scrubbit, says the role was a huge amount of fun.
“It’s really fun playing a baddie. I knew I would have fun on the job with Paul, and I wanted to work with him. I love the Paddington [films], and I’m a big fan of Timmy. I enjoyed every day on set. Paul is very collaborative and would shout at us to do silly things. I don’t think I’m terribly good at making stuff up, but it really helped when Paul would encourage us and shout suggestions.”
King’s take on the Oompa Loompa is vastly different to early versions of the characters. In one of his funniest roles, Hugh Grant plays an Oompa Loompa who causes Wonka all sorts of problems. It was Grant’s first time working with motion capture, and he says he hated every second of the experience.
“It was miserable. You wear a kind of crown of thorns, which is very uncomfortable. I made a big fuss about it. They put this thing on you. You are miked up, and you have straps around you. There are 16 different cameras. I didn’t know where I was or what was happening. I did my best.”
Alas, for Grant, the process did not end there. “Then two months later, can you come and do it again? And two months later, can you come and do it again? And this went on for two years. I couldn’t have hated the whole thing more. I asked them if I was supposed to be acting with my body or not. I never got a satisfactory answer. Frankly, what I did with my body was terrible and has all been replaced by animators.”
Keegan-Michael Key had a far more enjoyable time on set. He plays a corrupt police chief with a serious addiction to chocolate who has to eat an awful lot of sweet treats. What a terrible job!
“They created bespoke chocolate, all handmade. They were absolutely beautiful. I ate quite a bit of chocolate because we did a lot of takes, but then I would ask for another take just to get more chocolate.”
The film is full of messages of hope and the importance of sticking to your dreams. Chalamet says that he took the messages onboard, not just for his character, but for himself.
“There is a line: every good thing in this world starts with a dream. Also, in the song Pure Imagination, there is a great line about wanting to change the world – there’s nothing to it. Young Willy has this positive and optimistic attitude where he won’t take no for an answer and refuses to give up on his dreams. I really like that.”
Chalamet also says that it was a challenge to play Wonka, but he relished being part of an iconic British cast that also included Sally Hawkins, Rowan Atkinson, and Simon Farnaby, who also wrote this film with King.
Newcomer Calah Lane plays Noodle, an orphan Wonka takes under his wing. As just fourteen, Lane says she has a blast, especially with all that chocolate.
“There is a big chocolate scene that was super fun to film. The first time we filmed, it wasn’t chocolate, but the second time it was actually chocolate. We sat in a tank full of liquid chocolate that rose up like water. We were covered in it.”